‘Sports Shop’ offers different on-air approach
Over a plate of frog legs, a streetwise, sports-radio show hopped into the Triangle.
“I remember the lunch well,” said George Habel, vice president of the sports group at Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL-TV and FOX 50.
“I had frog legs! I remember that. That’s how I remember.”
Durham businessman and Bull City ambassador Steve Toler had told Habel about a guy named Erroll Reese and a couple of his friends who had been having some fun doing a radio show on a small station that had gone belly-up. Toler advised Habel that he believed the show would work on one of Capitol’s stations.
Habel agreed to have lunch with Reese and his radio buddies, Bill Murphy and Kevin McClendon, and they talked sports.
“I was just taken with their enthusiasm,” Habel said “They were just so enthusiastic when they talked about sports that I thought it was something we should try.”
Reese was a hall-of-fame wide receiver at Alabama A&M who, over the years, has buttered his bread as an information-technology professional, having spent time at IBM before co-founding an online sports-marking company.
McClendon is an IT sales executive, while Murphy, a Princeton graduate, is the guy whose voice you heard coming from the loudspeakers if you’ve ever attended basketball or football games at N.C. Central.
None of them came to the table with Habel with any on-air radio experience, but they all were experts at lighting up cigars and shooting the breeze about sports.
“Clearly, we’re not sports journalists; We’re sports fans,” Reese said. “We just have a unique way of displaying that each and every Saturday.”
“The Sports Shop” is a two-hour show on 620-AM The Buzz at 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
“(The show is) a clean version of the conversations that go on in the (cigar) shop,” Reese said. “Guys hanging out just talking a whole bunch of junk about sports.”
Don’t tune in to “The Sports Shop” (thesportsshopradio.com) to find out the shooting percentage of Chucky Brown when he played for N.C. State in the mid- to late-1980s. Wrong show.
“Stats are frowned upon,” Reese said. “Instead of saying somebody hit .325, we just say he had a couple of good hits.”
Brown said there’s nothing unprofessional about that.
What’s unprofessional are the radio hosts who invite both current and retired jocks on their shows for one thing and then flip the script, Brown said.
“Say I had trouble in my past; say I had robbed a bank — I didn’t; just as an example,” Brown said with a chuckle. “They call me and tell me they’re going to talk about basketball, then all of a sudden they say, ‘What about your bank-robbery charge?’ That’s unprofessional.”
Reese said the big-named athletes, past and present, who have appeared on his show have told him that they felt more comfortable on “The Sports Shop” as opposed to other shows because he and the crew keep things light.
Brown, who played in the NBA and now scouts for the New Orleans Hornets, said he sometimes dreads the invitations to appear on some shows, but he said he’s always ready to hang out in “The Sports Shop.”
“I’m not with the plastic, the cardboard crap,” Brown said. “Just stay real with me. You can tell me whatever. I’m a grown man now. Just be real. Just be yourself.
“A lot of people claim to be themselves, but they’re not themselves. They’re puppets on a string. Those guys, I think, are allowed to be themselves. Now, I don’t know what happens if the corporate guys get a hold of them. ... But I know, right now, those guys are themselves, and they make you feel comfortable on their show.”
That realness is why Habel said he wanted to put Reese and his guys on the radio.
The only problem was that Reese and his guys didn’t have anything to show for their work.
“They didn’t have an air check,” Habel said. “They hadn’t saved any of their work at the (other) radio station.”
So Habel put them in a radio studio and let them do their thing, pretending like they were doing a show.
“It’s not a super-polished radio show, but they’re having a good time,” Habel said.
In other words, Reese, Murphy, McClendon and now Anna Bays — a financial-services manager in the area — have that “it” factor, Habel said.
Habel would tell you that neither of them have the pipes of a Brent Musburger or the smoothness of a Bob Costas.
“They’re just having a great time talking about sports like any other group of people would,” Habel said.
Most folks have a circle of friends with the mix of personalities that “The Sports Shop” offers, and that’s part of the reason why the show works, Reese said.
There’s Murphy, the loudmouthed contrarian. Watch out for McClendon’s zingers with his bone-dry wit. Reese is the straight man.
“And Anna is a nice, pleasant balance,” Reese said.
Reese said Bays actually is the only one of them who is qualified to do the show since she studied journalism at UNC.
“A superstar in the making,” Reese said of Bays. “I think she’s really going to be doing some big things down the line in this space.”
Harry Lyles, president of The Lyles Media Group in Atlanta, told Reese two decades ago that he should to be in radio.
Years ago, Lyles was in the Triangle working to reverse the fortunes of one of the radio stations around here when he met Reese.
“I was in the car with him one time and Phil Ford called him up,” Lyles said. “The next time I’m in the car with him, James Worthy calls him up. Another time I’m in the car and Rasheed Wallace calls him up. And I said, ‘You know all these guys?’
“He says, ‘Yeah, I know them all. I know M.J., too. He just doesn’t call me, but I know him.’”
Lyles said he explained to Reese that having his Rolodex full of famous athletes had him primed for his own sports show, but Reese didn’t run with the idea, hedging because he had no radio experience.
“I told him, ‘If I had your connections, I’d be a star,’” Lyles said.
Reese ended up behind a microphone when former 1410-AM WRJD general manager Linda Greenwood asked him to fill in when a regularly scheduled host was unable to do a show.
It was around 11 a.m. when Greenwood asked Reese to fill in, and by 3 p.m. he had lined up as guests Walter Davis, Hubert Davis and Ford, all former high-caliber UNC basketball players.
“She kept asking me to come back,” Reese said.
Reese’s reach has brought guests to “The Sports Shop” ranging from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese.
Lyles said there’s something to be said about black people talking about sports since black athletes are the ones dominating the games that are the topics of so much Monday-morning quarterbacking.
Habel had the same idea.
“Let’s face it, locally, there are not many, if any, African-American voices and that’s just sort of upside down,” Habel said. “I just felt like it’s something we just needed to be working on.”
If Reese and his crew get better, they may end up on Capitol’s 99.9-FM The Fan, exposing “The Sports Shop” to a bigger audience, Habel said.
Reese said he has been approached three times from those interested in syndicating “The Sports Shop,” but he and the crew need to work on their craft before they start entertaining such offers.
“Timing is everything,” Reese said.